Olive groves and Italian Cyprus trees are seen at sunset in the Medieval Umbrian town of Orvieto. Italy.

Random thoughts and Details of Umbria…

Our Italian adventure continues 90 minutes southeast of Florence where we headed to experience a part of Italy we had never seen—Umbria—and even more importantly, to meet up with dear friends who have a home there.



The Papal Basilica of Saint Mary of the Angels in Santa Maria Novella at the base of Assisi contains within it the Portiuncula (pronounced poor-CHUN-kohl-Ah). This was Saint Francis’  very first church…beautiful and tiny with only about eight wooden bench seats. This incredible work of art rests at the center of the huge cathedral, The Papal Basilica of Saint Mary of the Angels.

The cathedral is simple, creamy white with nothing to distract you from the work of art that is the Portuincula which acts as the altar of the church.

Being in that tiny space, the overwhelming feeling is not one of the power or strength of God, but rather pure, overwhelming love. You feel it in every fiber of your body. It almost brings you to tears if you let it.



Perugia is a beautiful city. Even your breath slows when you are walking through the center of town. There is so much to see and to experience. There’s a laid-back elegance to this place that really makes me feel at home.

The Corso:

The Corso  (or Main Street) is the center of life for the village on the top of the hill. It winds in a slow, curvy line through the entire town.

It was cold and rainy when we were there but that couldn’t dampen the power and beauty of this hill town — Even in the rain this place is magical.  The architecture feels at once ancient and current. There is a timeless beauty about the city — and a simplicity of life here. “Do it or don’t do it.” No fulumfering about. Perugia is an interesting place to window shop and walking is a joy. You could spend hours just wandering up and down the Corso. It is a long, wide, and winding cobblestone street for pedestrians only so lingering could become a full-time hobby. Perugia is full of interesting things to see: architecture, boutiques, cafes, people…your eyes never stop roaming.

The Food:


We ate lunch in a little restaurant called Fontanella di Porta Sole that locals love. Here the owner, Gino, serves only Perugian dishes which he cooks himself. Gino is a wonderful, boisterous, funny Italian man.

When you walk into his restaurant he greets you warmly, shows you to a table and starts pouring you wine and making you soup. Before we even ordered, he brought out three bowls of soup for each of us to begin. I repeat..THREE bowls of soup each. Not cups, BOWLS. The first was orange in color, blended into a purée and utterly delicious. I have absolutely no idea what it was made out of…could have been beans, could have been lentils. All I know is that it was as gorgeous to taste as it was to look at. The second bowl was a multi-bean soup — about 6 or 7 different kinds —  grown by Perugian farmers. The third and last bowl was a Garbanzo bean soup. It was delicious as well, but by that point, I wasn’t surprised. For those of you who know my husband, Leon, you know that he hates beans…of any kind. Well, he totally dug this “trio of bean soups” from start to finish. That, in and of itself, was a little Italian miracle.

After the appetizer trio, I could have quit right there, but since this is Italy, I chose a homemade tortellini with pomodoro sauce as my main course, and Leon went with the grilled Italian cheese on bruschetta. Both were simple and delicate — perfect after the beautiful soups. I snuck into the kitchen to grab a quick photo of Chef Gino cooking. When he saw me, he laughed, grabbed something wrinkled and golden brown off the stove and thrust it at me to eat. “What is this?” I asked. He winked and said “grilled cheese.”  I laughed out loud and popped it into my mouth.  It was, of course, delicious, but more than that, the image of Gino shoving food at me with his bare hands while we stood in his kitchen is an image I will hold in my heart forever.  (I love Italians!) 



Orvieto is a much smaller and more medieval village than Perugia — set at the top of either a very large hill or a very small mountain. It is utterly charming and has a buzz about it. People are constantly cruising the Corso: teenaged boys hitting on teenaged girls, tourists from all over doing some Christmas shopping and seeing the sights while old Italian friends spend their time wandering slowly and talking about their days.

The Duomo:


The Duomo in Orvieto is quite possibly the most beautiful duomo in Italy. The exterior is clad in horizontal stripes of black and white stone —  just like the Duomo in Siena. But here in Orvieto, the frescoes are so vivid they feel as if they were painted just a few years back instead of several hundred. The front of the cathedral is covered in bas relief sculptures and frescoes, while gold leaf twinkles off the paintings, catching the sunlight from every angle. Once inside, the overwhelming feeling is one of peace and quiet. Perhaps because it’s huge and almost completely empty, you feel almost tiny by comparison, but in a very good way, if that makes any sense. You are cloistered by the grandeur of the place and your insignificance within it.

The Food:


Let me just tell you about one dish from Orvieto because you really don’t need another reason to come visit. There is a little cafe called Montanucci which has a dessert they lovingly call “Torte Della Nonna.” Picture the lightest butter-crumb crust topped with vanilla custard, layered with Marcona almonds and then “snowed over” with powdered sugar. Have a piece of Torte Della Nonna with a cappuccino and your day is made…I guarantee it. Heaven on a plate.

The Shopping:


The only souvenirs we bought here were a gorgeous Christmas ornament from Alessi of “The Old Man and the Sea” and a beautiful olive patterned ceramic sauce bowl with ladle. The main reason I bought that bowl is that it was the same pattern as our dear friends’ butter dish and I definitely wanted something to remember our time with them.

Speaking of friends, now to the highlight of our entire vacation…


First impressions: The minute our train rolled to a stop at Fabro-Ficulle, we saw our beautiful Jan, waving like crazy and yelling “Buone sera!” We drove for a few miles to the top of a very tall rolling hill, and finally pulled up to the beautiful home overlooking their olive orchard. Honestly, it looks like something out of a story book: exquisite stonework and faultless attention to detail, right down to the white roses and the antique olive wagon in the front garden with the pale pink wagon wheels.


Our first night Rosenda and Jan made a phenomenal floor picnic by the fire: red wine, bresaola, pecorino cheeses (three different ages), a crusty whole grain bread, tear-drop tomatoes and the biggest, greenest olives I’ve ever seen. To me they looked like dragon eggs.

Breakfast every morning was pretty much the same: eggs, freshly sliced toast, yogurt, homemade jam and coffee with freshly squeezed orange juice. Then we would start our day with some sort of long walk or day trip to another city.

The Truffle Lady:

OK. Hands down the cutest Italian we met so far was the truffle lady of Monteleone. She just looks like she ought to have her face on a bottle of spaghetti sauce — the stereotypical Italian “Nonna” who wants to feed her babies. I loved this woman. She runs the “Tartuffo Store” in Monteleone and cans and jars many of those sauces herself. Of course, while we were there, we bought a couple of jars of truffles preserved in oil to take home for dinner on a cold night in London.

Our Beautiful Friends:

This entire trip was planned so that we could spend time with our friends Rosenda and Jan. I had met Jan at Kalari Rasayana when I lived in India. In fact, there are a couple of articles about Jan on this same website. The minute I met Jan I felt like he must have been a brother in another life. He was a soulmate…a perfect gentleman who loved me instantly and wanted only the best for me. When he found out I was going to Dubai after I left the spa, he said “You MUST meet my beautiful wife Rosenda. You will LOVE her — and she will simply adore you.” So the next weekend, Rosenda and I met up in Dubai and spent an entire day wandering from gallery to gallery, eating lunch together, touring a chocolate factory and falling in love with our new friend.

Leon met Jan and Rosenda for the first time on New Year’s Day this year when we drove to Paris to see our other friends, Florence and Pascal. We celebrated New Year’s Eve with them and then spent all of New Year’s Day with Jan and Rosenda. Before the day was out we were planning to fly to Italy to help them with their olive harvest and the pressing of their own oil. In Italy Olive oil is life…it is very personal and it is something to be shared with your friends. Jan and Rosenda have about 250 olive trees so the harvest usually takes about 10 people about five days. So we immediately signed up to volunteer. For one reason or another, Jan and Rosenda decided to let the trees rest this year and not collect the olives for pressing. So instead we just spent our time together sightseeing and telling stories.

The highlights were plentiful: Leon gave Jan a dancing lesson, teaching him to waltz. The next morning, Jan came downstairs smiling that beautiful smile saying he dreamed he was dancing all night long in his sleep.

The four of us spent hours upon hours together over the past week just talking, laughing, walking, drinking wine and coffee — and telling the stories of our lives. We laughed, we cried, we cooked together, we ate together, we even fell silent and simply shared the space. And when we parted, it was more as family than as friends. And then the most amazing thing happened.


Jan and Rosenda’s friends, Mike and Penny Cartier came to stay for the weekend and we loved them too! They are funny and smart and easy-going. Mike has over 30 years as an ExPat from Minnesota and he and his wife, Penny (a Brit) live in the south of France right now and came to visit the olive trees — and of course, Rosenda and Jan.

We made each other laugh — a lot. And one of the best parts of the weekend was watching the Bromance the three boys fell into. They even went to the local cafe to get espressos on Sunday morning…no girls allowed.  It was so adorable watching the three of them walk off together like schoolmates that I took a quick photo to remember the feeling that all three wives had watching them stroll off together. We definitely hope Mike and Penny come visit us in London. We would love that!

The Food:

Rosenda is Italian — born and raised not more than 100 kilometers from Monteleone. Rosenda knows Italian food. She made us so many beautiful dishes while we were there: freshly-made tagliatelle bolognese, rack of lamb with garlic and rosemary, truffle risotto, vegetables and two beautiful picnic dinners in front of the fire and on fine linen. But the real joy was cooking with Rosenda, sharing the space, tasting and chatting and drinking good wine while we cooked. Cooking together is such an intimate way to be with a friend — and we treasured every moment of it.

Saying goodbye to our friends, new and old, was difficult. But we know we’ll see them again soon. There’s always the olive harvest next year!

Quote of the day:

Non si fa! (Translation – It’s just not done!)  Rosenda, being Italian, jokes that Italians are the “Taliban” of Food. There are many rules that Rosenda considers absolutely non-negotiable. ALWAYS use the very best olive oil you can get. You can NEVER get good olive oil from a factory…It’s made with olive dust. NEVER eat gelato in the winter. NEVER serve pasta at the same time as the main dish. ALWAYS serve wine with a meal. NEVER add tomato sauce to your beef ragu. (The list goes on and on.) Every time Leon or I would try to deviate from the proper procedure, we heard, “Non si fa!” (It’s just not done!)  I love that phrase. (I predict I’ll use it a lot in the future!)

Nothing could have been more wonderful than spending time with our beautiful Rosenda and Jan. We are so blessed to have such remarkable friends.


Random thoughts and Details of Florence…

First Impressions:

We got into Florence around 2pm. First stop was the hotel where they had upgraded us to a suite. (VERY good start to the vacation.) Then I found out they have memory foam mattresses and pillows which MADE the trip for me. (Best sleep I’ve had in a hotel in forever — seriously. I LOVED this bed!) Whenever we stay in Florence, we are staying at Firenze Hotel Number 9.

The Shopping: 

This was never really going to be a “shopping trip” per se. The trip itself was our Christmas present to each other. But of course there were a few things that we knew we wanted. I had already done some research, knowing the things we wanted to bring home to help remind us of Italy. My first score was a gorgeous pair of peacock blue leather gloves from Modova Gloves on the Ponte Vecchio.


Then we headed over to Scuola del Cuoio (the school of leather artisans) to buy a handbag and a couple of leather belts. Leon scouted out a wonderful enoteca where he finally found a couple of bottles of limoncello for his bar. The only other thing we really wanted was a cute, little Christmas ornament to remind us of Florence. We finally found one at the Uffizi. (If you don’t do this yet when you travel, you really should. It turns your Christmas tree into a memory tree, reminding you of all the places you’ve been over the years, and of all the fun you’ve had together.) 

The Sights:

The Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore (The Duomo):


We toured the church (which doesn’t take long) and lit candles for the boys (as always). It’s very austere and frankly, much more beautiful on the outside than the inside, although the vaulted ceilings and high arches do make the space seem to soar.

The Church of Santa Croce: 


This cathedral is MUCH more beautiful. Breathtaking really — Filled with stained glass, high arches and dozens of candles, it makes you feel the magic of faith. And it doesn’t hurt that Michelangelo’s tomb is here as well. I came especially to thank him for his beautiful work and lifelong commitment to the arts.

Gallerie dell’ Accademia di Firenze:


Well, anyone who knows me knows that I could NEVER come to Florence and not make a pilgrimage to the Accademia, home of the David and the unfinished sculptures of Michelangelo. (Frankly, after this stop, I could have gone home perfectly content.)

First off, the unfinished sculptures. There are six slaves in total but two live at the Louvre; the other four are here at the Accademia. (They were all destined for Pope Julius’ tomb, but never completed.) There is also one unfinished sculpture of Saint Matthew here as well though I don’t think he is nearly as powerful as the slaves. They, for some reason, feel tensed to the point of exhaustion. Stretching and straining to gain their freedom, they are sobering to study.

The thing that is so gorgeous (and heartbreaking) about these unfinished sculptures is how alive they feel. They look as though they were pushing their way out of the marble when they were frozen in place…trapped for eternity. “Exquisite torture” is the phrase that best describes them for me. Exquisite for us, torture for them. I won’t say looking at them makes me happy, but it does my soul good to be with them for a while.


There is also a bust of Michelangelo by Daniele da Volterra which was actually made from a plaster mold of Michelangelo’s face after death. This “death masque” as it were, is haunting. This bronze is the genius in the flesh — the original thinker who transformed the Fine Art of sculpture. Michelangelo: the master stonecutter, the creator, the genius. Looking at this bust and realizing it was made from a cast of Michelangelo’s face after death makes me incredibly sad and also intimately acquainted with one of my heroes.


My favorite piece in Florence, of course, is the David. How could it not be? The story behind it is a drama worthy of an opera. And the masterpiece itself is utterly captivating in its intensity. As for the drama though, Michelangelo was rescued by Lorenzo di Medici and raised as one of his own sons. Lorenzo gave him everything his father refused to: respect, love, power, support and opportunity. Michelangelo adored Lorenzo the Magnificent…how could he not?

But Michelangelo hated authority — and those who abuse it.  Lorenzo’s son, Ernesto, was a flat-out mobster, and this is where things began to shift for Michelangelo.

Right after stepping up to head the family, Ernesto called all the heads of all the most powerful families in Italy together for a meeting, and promptly had them all beheaded. The people of Florence began to resent his abuse of power, as did Michelangelo. And the David became a rallying cry for Florence — the little guy who could defeat the “giant” (the Medici family) and drive them out of Florence for good. It worked so well, in fact, that the Medicis were driven out of Florence for a few years. When they returned, Michelangelo feared for his life, going into seclusion, hoping to escape his own beheading. But Ernesto wasn’t all bad. He knew the world needed Michelangelo’s talent, so he sent word that Michelangelo was safe; there would be no retribution. So finally, the master-sculptor was able to come out of hiding. All was, if not forgiven, at least tolerated.

The thing I love more about the David than the story, however brilliant, is the work itself. The block of marble was 19-feet tall, but heavily veined and damaged. Two other sculptors had tried to work with it and failed miserably. Everyone thought it would be impossible to create anything intricate out of such a low-quality piece of marble.

But Michelangelo loved a challenge. He locked himself alone in a courtyard with that hunk of stone and a homemade scaffold — and for three years he tapped away, creating something that no one thought possible…a masterpiece.

Every detail from the veining in his hands, to the texture of the suede sling, to the dimpling of the knees is perfect. The intensity of David’s stare is chilling. And the hands…the hands are enormous, entirely out of proportion, which is, of course, by design. David had to have the hands of a giant-killer. The head is also  out of proportion because to defeat a giant, you must use not only your hands but your head as well.  David is the perfect mixture of humanity and the undying spirit of Florence.

The Uffizi Gallery and the Vasari Corridor:


It’s important to get a guided tour of the Uffizi. At the very least get an audio guide and only focus on the second floor. Otherwise you’ll kill yourself with culture. There are over 10,000 major works in the Uffizi and you simply cannot do them all in one day. We had a wonderful tour guide who showed us “the greatest hits” as it were, and it still took two hours. My favorites were the paintings by Leonardo and the giant plate by Michelangelo.

Leonardo da Vinci’s Room at the Uffizi: 


There are three really cool pieces that Leonardo had a hand in, one titled The baptism of Christ when he was just an apprentice, working alongside Raphael under their mentor and teacher, Andrea del Verrocchio. In one painting by the mentor, Leonardo painted the angel on the left and Raphael painted the angel on the right. I love that they are “in it” together.

In the second work, Adoration of the Magi, Leonardo has only completed about 80% of the painting, leaving the other figures as ghostly images, yet to be painted in. It’s hauntingly beautiful.

In the third piece, Leonardo’s The Annunciation, Leonardo has depicted the moment that the angel comes to Mary to tell her she is going to be the Virgin Mother to Jesus Christ. Since Leonardo was in the Priory, he didn’t believe this story and so he left two enormous clues telling the viewer that this was not a Virgin birth in his opinion.

The first clue is the large, red bed visible through the doorway to Mary’s right, hinting at the very human way that Leonardo believed Mary was impregnated. The second clue was the large opening to the garden in the background. In most annunciation paintings, there is a garden in the background but it is always walled on all four sides, illustrating that the “garden” was absolutely secluded, impossible for man to enter. In Leonardo’s, there is a nice, big opening. Leonardo loved is symbolism…always.

Now, onto the presentation plate by Michelangelo…


The story behind that presentation plate is fantastic and utterly Buonorotti. Michelangelo was commissioned to make this huge presentation plate for a rich silk merchant who wanted to give it to his wife (laden with fruit and flowers as was the custom of the time) in honor of his child’s birth. The fee agreed upon was 70 gold coins. However, when Michelangelo showed up with the piece, the merchant tried to haggle him down to 40, saying that the Virgin Mary was far too “buff” and he didn’t feel it was worthy of 70 gold coins. Michelangelo simply picked up the plate and left, without a word. Well, the silk merchant realized his mistake and went to Michelangelo’s house the next day, apologizing profusely, saying that he was a businessman and he was used to haggling over price. (It is what he did for a living, after all.) He handed Michelangelo the 70 gold pieces and said, “I hope you can forgive me, here is your payment in full.” Michelangelo said “Not to worry. All is forgiven. But 70 gold pieces was yesterday’s price. Today’s price is 140.” Needless to say, the merchant paid it.

The People of Florence: 

The staff at the hotel has felt like family from Day 1. Very sweet and helpful…eager to offer advice on the places locals love to eat, the best days and times for shopping and the best tours of the city. Everyone else has been very cordial though I’m not sure I would say warm.

The Food:

Oh my word…the food. Italy is the Motherland of all great food as far as I’m concerned. Food, wine, desserts — It just doesn’t get any better than Italy. We found a few locals’ haunts which we love to do whenever we travel. (We tend to stay away from the tourist traps at all costs.)


We went to L’Antique Pizzeria da Michele for dinner. For those of you who do not remember, this is the place in Naples that is supposedly the best pizza in the world. It’s the reason in the book Eat, Pray, Love that Elizabeth Gilbert had to buy jeans two sizes bigger than the ones she came to Italy in. They only offer two kinds of pizza: Margarita and Marinara and two calzones. I had the Margarita pizza. Leon had a smoked ham and ricotta calzone and we shared a bottle of Chianti. A perfect evening.


We were lucky enough to find Ara e Sicilia, a tiny little hole in the wall place with freshly made cannoli to order. They pump the cream in and “build” the cannoli at your request. Well, it made me feel like I’d never had a real cannoli before. Absolute heaven.

But the best spot for food that we discovered was a local haunt outside the city center called  I’Brindellone. Leon, the happy carnivore, ordered the Bistecca Firenze (a t-bone the size of a baseball mitt) and I ordered freshly-made tagliatelle with cream and truffles with a side of sautéed spinach. (I have to admit, I had a moment over the truffle pasta.) As usual, we split a bottle of the House Red and relaxed into a perfect meal. If there is anything Italy does better than pasta, I have no idea what it is.

Funny Stories: 


At dinner one night, we met a couple of actors from New York who were visiting Italy after finishing a season at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. The four of us talked non-stop for two hours. I’m sure the locals at the restaurant hated us, but I don’t care. I even relived my glory days at Studio 54 and the Limelight. Very trippy journey down memory lane.

Special Moment of the Day: 


There is something completely other-worldly — that makes me so proud to be an American. When during the course of our travels to another country, we find a cool, live music club, and all they play all night long is American, classic rock. We heard guitar takes on Prince, AC/DC, Alanis Morissette, Phil Collins, Bob Marley, Bill Withers, and the Eagles. I loved EVERY second. The perfect ending to a perfect day.

Quote of the Day:

Now. I completely understand the movie quote from The Godfather“Leave the gun, take the cannoli.” Once you’ve tasted one, you would NEVER let one go to waste…even in the aftermath of a murder. 

Love & Bananas


It’s not often that you get to see one of your true heroes in action, so having the chance to go to the London premier of a film based on the work of my only living hero was a day that I will hold in my heart forever.

You might remember my earlier articles about Lek Chailert and her tireless efforts to save the Asian elephant. Having devoted her life to the plight of abused elephants, she conceived, built and developed Asia’s most highly regarded wild animal rescue and sanctuary (Elephant Nature Park).  I volunteered at ENP for a week last year, and it changed me forever.  I recommend it to everyone I meet. It has brought me more joy than any single thing I’ve ever done in my life.

As the founder of ENP, Lek is now the focus of a new film that feels more like a nail-biting adventure  than a documentary. The movie debuted very recently —  In fact, it is hitting the United States right about now. (And the fact that Lek was at the private party with me before the premier — and actually remembered me, will keep my soul floating for weeks.). 

As I have said before on many occasions, “Once you have seen an elephant just being an elephant…you never want them to do anything else.” Well, there is finally a way for you to experience that beauty for yourself. There is finally a film that makes you feel like you are there with Lek…running a life-or-death rescue.

“Love & Bananas” focuses on one 70-year old, partially blind elephant named Noi Nah and on Lek’s relentless efforts to save her life. If they can get her safely to Elephant Nature Park, she’ll be able to live out the rest of her days without chains — in a place filled with love and sunshine.

I often refer to Lek Chailert as the “biggest” tiny person I ever met. At just under five feet tall and about 80 pounds, she has gone toe-to-toe with criminals, animal abusers, government bureaucracies and tourism conglomerates. She’s done all of this to defend wildlife in general — and Asian elephants in particular.

Despite so many arrests that she’s spent half her life in and out of court…despite almost constant death threats…despite the physical, financial and emotional harassment by those who make their money out of abusing elephants for tourist side shows and logging…

Despite all this, Lek Chailert has managed to rehabilitate hundreds of elephants. She has healed not only the broken bodies of these magnificent animals, but their spirits as well.  Hundreds of frightened and abused elephants have blossomed under her fierce determination and gentle care. Many of these elephants have been at the brink of death when they were rescued, some have killed humans in the past while attempting to escape their tortured existence. Lek has utterly changed them through her simple belief that love cures all ills.

The title of the film, “Love & Bananas” comes from Lek’s philosophy on elephant rehabilitation. It’s her belief that all elephants can be rehabilitated, no matter the mental issues, no matter the abuse and fear. All elephants can be rehabilitated through a combination of love…and bananas.

It is through Lek’s kindness and compassion for the abusers that she is able to change their behavior. She understands that the situation is complicated, that the abusers are doing what they feel they have to in order to feed their families. So she patiently educates them on other ways to make money from elephants without harming them.

Lek has seen things that can never be unseen, and she has witnessed them all without judgment or hatred. Rather than simply screaming in the dark, she is hoping to find a way to convince the abusers to show more compassion through painstaking education. In some cases, this education requires multiple visits over the course of several years — in the hope that eventually something will click, and the abusers will see a better way.

The thing that makes me love Lek with all my heart…love her to the point of weeping when I think about her, is that she makes these rescue trips over and over again, knowing the elephants that the abusers give up are the ones most likely to die. Still, she moves heaven and earth to rescue each one. She knows that she can’t change the plight of all animals everywhere, but for the one animal she’s rescuing or rehabilitating that day, she has changed one life forever…And for her, that’s all that matters.

This film will make you believe that anything is possible with just a little bit of love and compassion. It will send your spirit soaring. And who doesn’t need a little bit of that these days?

Please look for this documentary at an art house cinema near you. Take a friend…make a day of it. Look for it on Youtube or Netflix or Amazon…even public television. Do yourself a favor and go on an adventure vacation with Lek Chailert to rescue an elephant, and remember…Anything can be accomplished with love…and bananas.


NOTES: If you’d like to see a trailer from the film “Love & Bananas” please click here.

If you’d like to learn more about Elephant Nature Park to see how you could help these magnificent creatures, please click here.

If you have 30 seconds to sign a petition to Save the Asian Elephant please go click here.

If you’d like to see why Elephant Nature Park is thought of as the Adventure Trip of a Lifetime, and given five stars by almost 10,000 people on TripAdvisor, please click here to read reviews.


50 Years of Friendship


About 50 years ago I made a friend in elementary school. (I can’t believe I’m actually old enough to say that.)

Anyway, she was one of the most beautiful girls I’ve ever seen — a California baby with golden hair that reflected the light and a baby face that made everyone’s heart skip a beat. Her name was Shelley, and she was my very best friend…the kind you only make when either very young or very old. 

It felt as if our hearts beat together with the same rhythm. We played together endlessly, loved each other unconditionally, cheered each other’s happiness and cried at all the same things.

One of my favorite memories from childhood is when Shelley and I were about 7 or 8 years old. We decided to break into the Guinness Book of World Records. I had a Teeter Totter in my back garden, so she and I made six or seven of the worst ham sandwiches imaginable, stuck them in an enormous grocery sack and carried them out to the swing set. 

We started swinging back and forth on that old Teeter Totter, wondering how many days we would be able to keep going with our sandwiches to carry us through. We even made up a theme song to the tune of The Carpenters “For All We Know,” “Teeter…look at the two of us. Totter…isn’t it fun?”   I think we lasted all of 20 minutes. Then we went inside to watch television. Thinking back on that day still makes me a little weepy…remembering how innocent and funny we were. Feeling like the entire world was ours for the taking.

Of course, life moves along. How can it not? Tragedies happened in my family and in hers. She drifted her way and I drifted mine. We became interested in different things, and by high school we were living in different circles. Shelley was the cheerleader that all the boys wanted to date. I was a foot taller than every boy in high school so dating no one there, and as a result, completely focused on theater, dance and drill team. 

About five years ago, we reconnected through Facebook. But, as I’ve been living in three other countries during that time, we’d only been able to get together for dinner with a small group of friends four or five times since we reconnected. Not much time to do anything but ask the basic “catch up” questions. “How are you?” “How are the kids?” “How is life these days?” “Where have you traveled lately?” Etc…

That is until about a month ago when Shelley messaged me and said, “I’m coming to visit you in London.” Of course I was thrilled, I’ve been asking her to come for years. But secretly I was a little worried. What if we didn’t have anything in common anymore? What if we had nothing to talk about? What if…What if…What if?   

Well, as it turns out, there was absolutely NO need to worry.

From the moment she walked in the door of my flat, we were those same two giggly little girls again, with our own secret language, not needing to finish our sentences because we knew the other person had already finished them in her head. We talked at the same time, laughed like school girls and even cried at all the same things again. It felt like our hearts were beating with the same rhythm within an hour of our time together. 

I’ve had more belly laughs in just this last week with her than I’ve had in the past 15 years. And since we both hate, hate, HATE saying goodbye, when she left we both just said “See ya.”  And then the minute she got in the taxi and drove off, I burst into tears.

I feel like I not only rediscovered an old friend, but a part of myself as well. I found that goofy, funny little girl who was all heart, all love and all innocence. I rediscovered that little girl is powerful and confident and incredibly fun. I rediscovered that the world is full of possibilities.

Best of all, I rediscovered that sometimes the best friends of your life are the ones whose hearts beat with the same rhythm as yours.  Shelley and I are like twins separated at birth. She’s a part of me and I’m a part of her. Before she left, we made plans for her to come back for another visit in December — maybe.   I’m praying she does…I miss her already.

I’ve been so blessed to have incredible women friends throughout my life. Leesy, Diane and Joy (and a few others) are like sisters to me, woven together into the fabric of my life. They know how much they are loved — how much they mean to me.  I’m writing this, though, because I’m just so grateful to have rediscovered my beautiful Shelley.

I love you, Teeter.  Come back soon.

Why Do We Do It?


Rough day today.  I’m going through something that I know a lot of other women are dealing with as well. My self-esteem is at rock bottom. Weight is an enemy that I fight on a daily basis. I confess I’m tired of it. I’m tired of feeling fat — and worthless as a result.  I realize that this has been a chronic feeling for most of my life going back as early as I can remember. 

I know I’m not the only woman who has had these feelings haunt her. I’ve watched too many of my friends cry about it, crash diet through it, take pills over it, and feel defeated when those things fail. We learn to hate ourselves when we can’t get our weight down to some imaginary size that to us means we’re good enough.  I am furious on behalf of all of us who were conditioned from childhood to equate our value with our smallness as if that were the only thing that mattered…as if it mattered at all. 

I look over photos of myself all the way back to high school when my measurements were 36” 26” 36” and I remember feeling humiliated by my size even then.  I remember a story my mom used to tell about me from when I was 6 years old. I was worried because I thought my knees were fat. (My legs were so thin at that age, I suppose my knees looked big by comparison. Photo to follow.)

Why does our society do this to women? Why do we do this to our girls? Why don’t we instead speak to our girls of contribution and power, of strength and health instead of judging them for their size…instead of teaching them by our example to try to be less?  Why do we praise women for how small they have gotten —  or how much of themselves they lose? 

Right now I hate the thoughts running around inside my head. And I hate the realization that this tape has been playing for decades upon decades.

When will I grow up?   Will I ever?

If I could change anything about myself it would be that. I know this post is short and it’s not the most fun to read, but right now this is what I’m dealing with…and I’ll lay odds I’m not the only one.

(NOTE: I’m adding some photos to the bottom of this article that were taken at times I was sure I was fat — just to show how insidious and how insane this issue is.  The final photo was taken on my wedding day. When I went to a bridal boutique to pick out a wedding dress, the sales lady smirked and told me that I was FAR too big to fit in any of the store’s samples…I left in tears. Of course I eventually found a beautiful dress in another shop, but by then I felt horrible about myself. Looking back at this last photo taken on my wedding day, I wonder how I could have let that idiot make me feel so ugly  and so worthless just because she thought I was “huge.”    Each and every one of these photos reminds me of the old saying, “I wish I were as fat as the first time I thought I was fat.) 





You know that feeling you get when you’re able to spend time with someone you haven’t seen in years? Someone who genuinely loves you for exactly who you are? Lucky me…I got to do that yesterday! Leon and I spent an entire day with one of my favorite people in the world, Carlton D. Baker II, and his wonderful wife, Michele. I’ve known Carlton for about 35 years. We met at my sorority house at Southern Methodist University right after I pledged. (He was a little brother for the sorority, and one of the first people I met there…I’ve loved him ever since.)  Anyway, he and Michele were vacationing in Paris and took 14 hours away from that incredibly romantic city to spend a day just hanging out with us in London. We did all sorts of fun, touristy things that Leon and I don’t normally do. All in all, it was a simple, perfect day.

The weather was clear and sunny (wellsunny for London, anyway!) Since it wasn’t terribly cold, walking around the city was actually fun. We had a full schedule of things to do together, all of which allowed us to talk the entire time. Honestly, it doesn’t get any better than that.

We met Carlton and Michele’s train at St. Pancreas station. Then the four of us caught the tube over to Covent Garden where we poked around in antique shops, bookstores, and even art galleries. Michele bought herself a set of vintage “Alice in Wonderland” prints in a Lewis Carroll bookstore filled with dusty, old first editions.

We almost walked right past a tiny, old hat shop, lined floor to ceiling with fedoras in every color. Carlton is a total “hat guy” so we all went inside to play dress up. I tried on a teal-colored Trilby that made Leon stop dead in his tracks. He said it made me look just like Catherine Zeta-Jones in the movie “Red 2.” The next thing I knew, out came his credit card. (I’m guessing he has a secret thing for CZJ.)

One of the nicest parts of the day was getting to know Michele a little better. I’ve always loved her simply because of how happy she made Carlton, but this visit gave me the chance to get to know her better, and I saw first hand how cool she really is. She’s one of those great 1940s-style women, like a black & white film star who’s a true “broad” in the best sense of the word (picture Barbara Stanwick). Completely comfortable in her own skin, she’s down to earth and easy to be with. Michele is calm and smart and pulls no punches. Best of all, she’s a beautiful example of what confidence in a woman should look like. Needless to say, I liked her…a lot.

The four of us wandered around Covent Garden a while longer, ending up at B Bakery where we had reservations for High Tea. Every single bite was delicious: soft, buttery scones with clotted cream, bacon sandwiches, passion fruit & mango tarts, raspberry & chocolate macarons, butter cookies with cream cheese frosting, dark chocolate mini-cupcakes. (And I thought the French were the kings of pastry!)

After we were completely high on sugar, we walked to Windsor Pier so we could show Carlton and Michele Parliament and Elizabeth Tower. Then we all boarded a boat for the slow cruise down the Thames to Tower Pier which lets off right at Borough Market. We did a bit of the farmer’s market thing and then hugged goodbye at least three or four times before finally separating for the time being. We even made plans for them to come back sometime in the next year when they can actually stay with us for a few days! I can hardly wait.

This visit reminded me how important it is to cherish your soulmates, those few people throughout your life who always see your soul, rather than your looks — who always speak to the best part of who you are. Those are the people who make you feel like you are perfect just as God made you.

True soulmates can float into your life in a romantic way, of course. But they can also find you as family or even friends. The wonderful thing is that you can have more than one soulmate in your lifetime. I’ve had a few, and Carlton is definitely one of them. Every minute spent with him is something I treasure.

I have a question for you. Who have been your soulmates over the years? Take a moment out of your day to write or phone them. Take the time to tell them just how much they mean to you. If you’ve lost track of them completely, google them and try to reconnect that way.

Believe me…telling someone how much you love them will always make you feel grateful. And that…is a very good thing.


Notes: If you’d like to know more about B Bakery, here’s a link to their website:


Crazy Travel Stories – The Maldives



Inspired by my friend, Marti Baker, who is also a world traveler, I decided to write down some of my crazier travel stories. Here’s the first.

On our New Year’s trip to the Maldives last year, our adorable pilots showed up in flip flops and shades. They flew the plane barefoot, texting on their iPhones the entire flight. (I found this charming rather than terrifying, probably because I knew at some point I would be writing about it.)

Then during the water landing, they basically “crashed” into the water — so hard  that I was thrown across the aisle and landed in the lap of the man next to me.

There I am, with my head IN his lap and I look up…eye to eye with his wife. All I could do was say “I’m just so sorry. So sorry.”

THAT…was a moment.

Elephant Nature Park


Left to right and top to bottom: One of the elephants munching on some greens, some shady spots and sprinklers for the elephants to play in, me -kissing my beautiful Kabu, me with Lek and her husband, Darren who run the park, Lek being hugged by one of her babies, Sri Prea, (Navann’s mum) flirting with me in the meadow one afternoon, me feeding Kabu while she was nursing a foot infection due to an injury she suffered in the logging industry, and finally, me getting ready to shovel truckloads full of elephant poo. (Trust me, it was a lot more fun than it sounds!)

Question: How can you possibly communicate an utterly life-changing experience in a short web article?
Answer: You can’t. I’ve tried for months to write something that could communicate how profoundly my life was changed by the week I spent volunteering at Elephant Nature Park animal rescue, and I finally realized it’s impossible. All I can do is give you a glimpse of a sliver of the power of that place. So…that’s what I’m going to do.

If it will help, I can tell you that if you were to ask me the absolute best thing I’ve ever done in my life, I’d have to say it was traveling to the jungles of northern Thailand by myself — to volunteer at Elephant Nature Park for a week. It was, simply put, the most beautiful experience I’ve ever had in my life and it fed my soul to a breadth and depth that I didn’t know was possible.

Being a part of this special place, even for just a week, was so profound that it’s taken me months to be able to put my feelings into words. In fact, I haven’t written a single article since my visit there.  I was too intimidated to try to communicate the “perfectness” of that hauntingly beautiful, other-worldly place.  At the same time, I couldn’t make myself write about anywhere else until I had paid tribute to it.

Elephant Nature Park, is a true rescue, not just some tourist factory that markets itself as a sanctuary while still chaining up the animals and offering elephant rides. ENP is a tangible “heaven on earth” for rescue elephants, more than 72 of them, in fact. Not only that — they also house more than 530 rescue dogs and 80 water buffalo. In addition, they have a separate rescue in the mountains for the over 200 wild boar that would have been killed if not for the sanctuary’s intervention. The main park, however, is where the elephants and water buffalo roam freely through the grounds together with about twenty of the more senior, rescue dogs gleefully chasing each other through the grass. It is a magnificent sight to see all of these different animals (and people) nosing up to each other and spending their days lounging in the sun.

This “Garden of Eden” is the brainchild of a remarkable woman named Lek Chailert. A five foot tall, 95-pound powerhouse of a woman, she started fighting for the rights of working elephants years ago, and the culmination of her vision is Elephant Nature Park– a world-renown conservation project and preserve. When I call her “remarkable” I mean it quite literally. While I was there, I learned she had broken her hip months earlier but had absolutely refused to take time off to treat her injury. There was no way she was going to stop feeding, coaxing and tending to her elephants one-on-one, due to her deep and abiding belief that bonding with these beautiful animals is the best way to gift them with a new life, helping them to trust not only their environment, but humans again — after all the gross abuses they suffered in their lives before arriving at ENP. She was still in great pain and walking with a cane while I was there, but every day she still went out to “play” with her elephants, and every single one of them adores her. When they see her, they come running.

Lek makes sure that Elephant Nature Park has everything these magnificent animals need in order to recover and thrive. The first thing that happens when a new elephant arrives is that they get their own, private caregiver called a mahout, whose entire job is to follow his elephant around 24 hours a day, and simply be his buddy. But that’s only the beginning. The park itself is designed to cater to the elephant’s every need and desire. There are sprawling grasslands, concrete swimming pools, big, cooling mud baths, and many long, winding foot paths to walk. (Did you know that elephants will walk along a dirt path when there is one available in order to preserve the grasslands of their environment? Well, they do.)

The entire preserve is covered with bright green meadows, peppered with lush trees and dotted with watering holes, tire swings, and shady spots. There’s even a crystal clear river where the elephants bathe with the help of the volunteers. It is a breathtakingly beautiful home for these rescued elephants where they are given plenty of fresh food, medical care and best of all…freedom. Freedom they’ve never before experienced. These elephants have been exposed to untold horrors, but whatever their age or circumstance, here they’ll get to live out the rest of their days in freedom and security.
Elephants are not solitary creatures. When left alone in the wild, they live with their families their entire lives. But since this is a rescue, virtually every elephant here has been ripped from their family and forced into hard labor. One of the most important things that happens when these elephants arrive, is that they are encouraged to form new families with the other rescues, families from whom they will never be separated from again. They will roam around the grounds of this sanctuary together in peace — for the rest of their lives.

Here, the air is clear and the ground is soft. The food is plentiful: always clean, ripe and fresh. Truckload after truckload of pumpkins, melons, bananas and cucumbers are delivered every day. The staff at ENP even makes rice balls each day for the elephants who have lost their teeth as a result of either torture or neglect. The kitchen keeps the menu constantly changing so the animals don’t get bored. (Can you believe that?)

This park is a place where every animal feels peace, sometimes for the very first time in their lives. Here, they are safe and loved — respected and valued. When you volunteer here, you can’t believe the amount of love you feel pouring out of you. Just standing next to an elephant is pure joy. When you get really close to one, they always look you in the eye. You see a depth of understanding there — a recognition. They acknowledge that you’re sharing their space with them and they take the time to really see you, to feel who you are. It’s not like looking into the eyes of any other animal — they are truly with you while you are there, and they are in no hurry to leave you. If you pay attention to them in those moments, you’ll learn how beautiful it is to just be with someone…sharing space together.

Standing there, eye to eye with one of these huge, calm, compassionate creatures makes you feel connected not only to yourself and to them, but to God. It gives you a sense of your place in the world. It’s simply impossible to be unmoved by these beautiful animals — and the woman who gave them a chance to simply “be.” Once you’ve actually seen an elephant just be an elephant, you never want them to do anything else. The idea of their being forced to perform tricks or give rides…or even the thought of their being torn away from their families to make someone a few bucks makes you feel sick inside.

After you have shared even one genuine moment with an elephant, you will forever be on their side — praying for their happiness and grateful just to have been a witness to their easy, quiet strength. And you will be forever grateful for the work that Elephant Nature Park is doing. So…

As it turns out, heaven really IS a place on earth, at least for elephants. And it’s nestled among the northern mountains of Thailand, just about an hour and a half from Chiang Mai. 
 I thank God for the opportunity to have witnessed their lives there, even for just a moment. (If you ever want to shake up your life — or just feel like you’ve visited the Garden of Eden for a week or so, do yourself a favor and volunteer at Elephant Nature Park. You’ll never look at the world the same way again. I guarantee it.)

To make a donation or volunteer at Elephant Nature Park, click on their link: ‪‬

Goodbye, India



For a year now, I’ve been living in a culture completely different from any I have ever experienced, and it has rattled me to my core. The past year has shown me how brutal and unfair life can be…but it has also shown me great beauty.  It is true that there is a casual disregard for suffering in India which is heartbreaking to witness. But there is also a calm acceptance of one’s situation at any given moment which in itself brings a deep sense of peace.

India is a remarkable country filled to the brim with contradictions. Yes, it is challenging. India is chaos, utterly and completely. Nothing about this country is logical — It is loud, crowded and difficult. But there is also a haunting, timeless beauty here, especially in the people who are, almost without exception, curious, open-hearted and completely accepting.

One thing I ams certain of…I am the better for having lived the adventure of her.

I will write more articles on my time here, but as my plane leaves in just a few hours, I wanted to say goodbye properly.   So…Here are a few of my favorite memories from our year in Asia.


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Elephants: What You Don’t Know, Can Hurt Them


(The first photo is an elephant family in the wild. The second: a parade of working riding elephants. The third is Kabu, my favorite girl at Elephant Nature Park Rescue. Note her front left leg: injured as a baby, born into a lifetime of work in the logging industry.)

I love elephants. Beautiful examples of living in the moment, elephants are utterly at ease in their own skin. The longer you watch them, the more aware you are that beauty and gracefulness have nothing to do with size. (Made me feel so silly for being self-conscious about the 15 pounds I keep wanting to lose.) Perfectly content with who they are, they don’t let anything interfere with that sense of peace. They amble around with that slow, casual walk of theirs, completely unhurried, knowing that life is about each moment of the journey…not the destination.

Everyone knows that elephants are also capable of colossal strength, but few people notice that they almost never use that strength to harm others. That alone is a simple, almost perfect life-lesson in coexistence and compassion. Every one of us could use a little more of that.

A year ago when my husband and I moved to India, I couldn’t wait to see these glorious creatures up close. To get to know these Gentle Giants who are so much a part of Asian Culture. They completely fascinated & inspired me. Turns out I’m not alone.  In fact, millions of people around the world admire and adore these animals and will pay just to be near them. As a result, elephant attractions are big business here in Asia, and just like any business, they are driven by profit. As a result, no one seems to care what happens to elephants once they are forced into the trade. When it comes to business…Money drives the day.

These animals deserve to have someone speak for them and they deserve to have people listen. What I’ve learned about the life of a “working elephant” isn’t pretty–in fact, it will break your heart, but I wouldn’t ask you to read this if there weren’t something you could actually do to make things better…and there is. Just give me the next 5 minutes of your time and then decide for yourself. We might not be able to change the world, but we can certainly make a difference to them…and a big difference at that.

I beg you to read this article even if you are as tender-hearted as I am. I will soft-pedal the violence so that it isn’t too graphic. I will attempt to give you the most objective, clear-headed version of the situation possible. PLEASE have the strength to read it. Only by knowing what is happening and by spreading the word can anything begin to change for these wise, loving creatures. Terrible things can happen in the shadows. The only way to fight the darkness is in the sunlight.

First, Some Context…
An elephant’s life span is about 80-90 years of age, and since the herds are matriarchal, a female elephant’s life will revolve around her family until the day she dies. A typical elephant family usually consists of a mother, her sisters, daughters and their babies (calves). Much like human matriarchs, the females of the family will protect the young, nurse the injured, and grieve over the deathbeds of those they love and lose along the way.

In an elephant herd, each mother has a nanny (also sometimes called a midwife) who is usually a sister or the best friend of the mother’s. The bond between a mother and her nanny is lifelong. It is a very intimate and deep connection. They choose each other months before the baby is born, and the nanny is the one who makes all the preparations for the birth: gathering bedding, clearing an area for delivery and in general, loving and caring for the mother during labor. She is there at the moment of birth, pulling the baby underneath her own legs as soon as he drops, so that the mother doesn’t accidentally harm him in the throes of labor. She is also the one who gently nudges and pushes the baby onto his feet as soon as possible so that his lungs will inflate fully, he will recover quickly and he will be less vulnerable to predators.

From the moment of the baby’s birth, the nanny and mother raise him as a team. Whenever they walk, they keep the baby in between them, protecting him from unseen predators. They almost never let the calf out of their sight…not for years. If a baby trumpets or shows any alarm, they run to his rescue immediately. When there is danger, they always protect the baby — even at the risk of their own lives. Their devotion never wavers; it’s what every little kid would wish for.

For protection and comfort, the calf spends the first few months of his life constantly walking beneath the bodies of the mother and nanny as they wander along…back and forth, back and forth. As a result, all of his baby hair (the cute, wiry hair on his head and back) rubs off, leaving him looking almost polished and new. It’s adorable. (I’ve seen beggars in Asian markets asking people if they want to buy a bag of food for their “pet” baby elephant. These baby elephants usually have hair, which means that the baby was stolen from his family when he was only weeks or months old…before his baby hair had a chance to rub off from contact with his mother.)

If left in the herd, each calf is protected, nurtured and socialized as a part of the family for years. They will play, test their boundaries and learn how to interact with others. Whether boy or girl, each of them grows and develops under the watchful supervision of mother and nanny. There is only one major difference between the boys and the girls. During puberty, at around 12-15 years of age, the males (bulls) will become more aggressive to the other members of the herd. When they start pushing, bullying and becoming a threat, these young males will be pushed out of the herd by their own nanny in order to keep everyone safe. At this point, the bulls, now considered young adults, will leave, either finding a group of other bulls and living a more nomadic life with them or choosing a more solitary life on their own.

The females remain behind, their lives continuing to revolve around family. They are the caregivers, the nurturers. They will devote their lives to the herd until the day they die…bonded together over their commitment to the family and each other. But their most powerful connection is always to the babies.

Back To Business…
As I said earlier, elephants are big business. They are used for industries like logging, tourist attractions, elephant rides, even circuses. Female elephants are preferred by the trainers because they can be force-bred over and over again for decades while continuing to work non-stop (thus supplying even more elephants to the trainers over time). Since the elephants die as a result of the stress, loneliness and backbreaking work they are forced to do, these industries need a constant supply of new elephants in order to stay in business — for that they turn to the hunters and trainers.

How Do You Choose?
Which elephants are the smallest, the most naive and the easiest to manipulate and therefore “train?”  The babies, of course. But, how do you “catch” a baby elephant when his mother and nanny are so protective of him?  Sadly, it’s usually by killing his family.

It stands to reason. If the mother and nanny will fight to the death to protect the baby, cut to the chase and eliminate the fight altogether. There are several ways the hunters can kill the baby’s mother and nanny. They can shoot them outright. They can even dig a huge hole and then drive the elephants toward it until they fall in, then pull the baby out, leaving his guardians to die of starvation in the pit. Sometimes, however, with this method the baby will become fatally injured in the fall, so quite often they do something even more horrible. They create an enormous mud pit — with mud so thick it’s like slow-drying concrete. Then they can drive the elephants into it, and pull the baby out afterwards, leaving the mother and nanny entombed in mud to die of thirst days later — the entire time, screaming for their baby.

This is every bit as hard on the babies as you can imagine. Elephants do indeed have long memories and a deep capacity for love. They develop strong, intimate bonds, often creating lifelong friendships based on deep emotional connection. They love…deeply. As a result, the grief of being ripped away from their mothers under such terrifying circumstances is unimaginable. That trauma will haunt an elephant until the day he dies.

The Crush…
What happens to the babies next? The hunters need to break them in order to make them “trainable.” Please note, this is NOT like breaking a horse. Every “trick” they want the elephants to perform is against their nature, so they must completely destroy the babies’ will to live in order to get them to submit. They do this through a technique they call “the Crush.”

Virtually every elephant being used for logging, elephant rides, circuses, temple ceremonies and tourist attractions has gone through this process, which is all the more heartbreaking when you remember that most of the elephants put through this are babies that have just lost their mothers, their families and everyone they’ve ever loved. They are terrified and confused, feeling utterly alone — literally for the first time in their lives.

During the Crush, these young elephants are chained — tied down from 12-15 different directions in such a way that they can’t move more than an inch or two. For the next three to seven days, they will not sit; they will not lie down. They will even be unable to take one small step from side to side. They are quite literally “trapped” for the duration of this process. Other techniques used during the Crush are starvation, thirst and sleep deprivation, so the calf will not be allowed one bite of food, one sip of water or any sleep at all for days…not until the Crush is over.

What happens to the elephant during the Crush? The men will torture these babies non-stop in order to crush their spirit. (No doubt, that is where they get the name for this process.) You see, once the elephants have lost their will to live, they will accept anything that happens to them later. Since the hunters and trainers prefer female elephants to males, I’ll use a female as my example here.

So it begins…
For the next three to seven days, these men will systematically torture the terrified baby relentlessly. They will beat her, hack at her with machetes and throw rocks at her. They will burn her and gouge holes into the soft skin under her neck and behind her ears. They will yell…and hit…and punish, day and night, for the next three to seven days. They will bang pots behind her head to keep her awake and heighten the stress. Remember, for the duration of this process she is tied down so tightly that she is completely unable to move. She will not be allowed to lie down, to sit or even to sway back and forth to dissipate the stress. The chains tied around her ankles will rip the flesh off of her legs…all the way down to the muscle. There will not be one moment that this poor animal won’t be tortured and terrified until this process is completed.

The torture itself is the goal, you see. Once they kill the baby’s will to live, they can make her accept anything the trainer will do to her later. (It’s important to note that some babies don’t survive this process.)

Elephant Suicide…
Many elephants will actually commit suicide during the Crush — if given the chance. I had no idea that could even happen with an animal, but it’s absolutely true. You see, elephants have big brains. They’re smart so they have the ability to comprehend the hopelessness of their situation even at a young age. As a result, they can’t be left alone for even a moment and their trunks must be tied away from their bodies — or they will escape the only way left to them: either by stepping on their own trunks until they suffocate or biting through their trunks until they bleed to death. These babies will actually see suicide as their only way out…and they will take it.

If denied that escape, they will simply give up the will to live and then be ready for the next stage of training. You’ve heard that old adage, “An elephant never forgets.” Well…that’s actually true. Elephants have incredibly long memories. So, they will remember this torture for the rest of their lives and it will haunt them — forever.

The worst part of this whole thing is that the Crush is only the beginning of their new normal. Next comes the “training” and the back-breaking abuse. This abuse will continue for the rest of their lives.  If they’re lucky, they’ll die soon. If not, the abuse and the loneliness could go on for another 80-90 years.

If Only…
If people stopped paying money to go to carnivals or circuses to see elephants dance on their hind legs, twirl hula hoops, or spin around on one foot…If people stopped paying money for elephant rides or elephant paintings when they come to Asia…If people contributed their time or their money to a real elephant rescue like the one where I just volunteered…If people stopped for just a moment to think about our responsibility to the world we live in…If any or all of these things happened, elephants might just stand a chance. They might remember how to be elephants again. They might look on human beings with love and gratitude, instead of abject fear. Because in addition to all their other qualities, elephants are incredibly forgiving…Their compassion runs as deep as their memory.

What You Can Do…
None of that can happen without your help, and you can help — with very little effort actually. Just share this article everywhere you can. Tell your friends not to spend money for elephant rides when they vacation in Asia. (Suggest that they take a day to volunteer at a legitimate elephant rescue instead — that’s so much more fun anyway.)  Since money is what their abusers care about, that is where the battle is won. Sign a petition…Donate money to legitimate elephant rescues…Volunteer. There are so many ways we can make a difference.

And remember…Sometimes the stories we want to hear the least, are the ones we need to hear the most.  Let’s make people listen.

In my next article I’m going to introduce you to a brave woman in Thailand who has spent her life rescuing and defending Asian elephants. We’ll go inside the sanctuary she’s created. In the meantime, you can learn more about her work and consider a donation through their home page: